Uganda’s parliament on Tuesday passed a law making it a crime to identify as LGBTQ, giving authorities sweeping powers to target gay Ugandans who already face legal discrimination and mob violence.
More than 30 African countries, including Uganda, already ban same-sex relationships. The new law appears to be the first to ban simply identifying as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ), according to rights group Human Rights Watch.
In addition to same-sex sexual relations, the law prohibits the promotion of and complicity in homosexuality, as well as the conspiracy to participate in homosexuality.
Violations of the law carry stiff penalties, including death for so-called aggravated homosexuality and life imprisonment for gay sex. Aggravated homosexuality involves gay sex with persons under the age of 18 or when the perpetrator is HIV positive, among other categories, according to the law.
The legislation will be sent to President Yoweri Museveni to become law.
Frank Mugisha, a prominent LGBTQ activist from Uganda, denounced the legislation as draconian.
“This law is very extreme and draconian…it criminalizes being an LGBTQ person, but they are also trying to erase the entire existence of any LGBTQ Ugandan,” he said.
Museveni has not commented on the current proposal, but has long been an opponent of LGBTQ rights and signed an anti-LGBTQ law in 2013 that Western countries condemned before it was struck down on procedural grounds by a national court.
Supporters of the new law say it is needed to punish a broader range of LGBTQ activities, which they say threaten traditional values in the conservative and religious East African nation.
«Our creator, God, is happy (about) what is happening… I support the bill to protect the future of our children,» lawmaker David Bahati said during the debate on the bill.
«This is about the sovereignty of our nation, no one should blackmail us, no one should intimidate us.»
In recent weeks, the Ugandan authorities have cracked down on LGBTQ people after religious and political leaders denounced students being recruited for homosexuality in schools.
Authorities this month arrested a high school teacher in the eastern district of Jinja on charges of «grooming girls for unnatural sexual practices.»
She was subsequently charged with gross indecency and is in prison awaiting trial.
Police said Monday they had arrested six people accused of running a ring that was «actively involved in grooming young children to commit acts of sodomy.»